View Full Version : High/Low Brass? What does this mean?

March 25, 2008, 09:25 PM
Just wondering. Vaguely gathered it has something to do with the power of the shell.

March 25, 2008, 09:36 PM
It's simply how far the brass of the shell extends from the base toward the front end of the shell.

Low brass rounds tend to be cheaper, pricewise, not quality. They also tend to not cycle very well in SA shotguns. I use them in my Mossberg 535 12ga pump without issue. I know my low brass Winchester Super X #4 heavy loads I use for turkey won't cycle in my boss's Browning SA he has. But, the high brass he uses in his Browning will cycle in my pump.

roy reali
March 26, 2008, 12:04 AM
High brass or low brass shell cycle equally well in side-by-sides and stack barrel shotugns.

March 26, 2008, 12:08 AM
This explains it better than I. (http://www.shotgunworld.com/ammo_s092000.html)

March 26, 2008, 01:01 AM
Thanks for the help!

Edit: Random Question: Are shotgun shells nowadays waterproof? I know other cartridges can stand some water, but can [plastic] shotgun shells?

March 26, 2008, 07:25 AM
The info on that link is not totally correct. True, paper hulls used a longer length of brass on the head to aid in extraction, the reason being is that the black powder charges used in these hulls burns much hotter than the modern smokeless powders and the longer brass head was used only on higher power loads. Because of the increased pressure and heat of the heavy BP loads any little bit of roughness in the chamber would cause extraction problems because the hull would be pressed into the chamber hard enough to cause it to stick and if the wax melted a little then cooled before extraction, it further complicated things.

Thus, in the old days, "hi-brass" denoted higher power rounds and that held over well into the modern plastic hulls and smokeless loads for two reasons, one it was a way of quickly identifying the load and also because the early plastic hulls also presented extraction issues - also the reason why all the early plastic hulls were ribbed and some brands remain so today.

Thus, even yet today, the common usage of the term "hi-brass" usually denotes a heavier load in a standard length hull as in: "I switched to the hi-brass when we got out of the woods and into the open pheasant fields." Translated that means the hunter changed from a lighter load to a heavier load but both in the standard 2.75" length.

With modern uni-hull construction, the brass washed steel head remains mostly as a cheap 7 easy way to increase durability of the hull. Years ago a Active introduced the first all plastic hull that did not have a metal clad head of any kind and they worked well and also lasted a long time even with heavy loads in repeaters.

With modern plastics and smokeless powder, the length and/or lack of a metal clad head should not have any affect on the functionability of any gun. Extraction issues can be caused by any number of things such as: mechanical issues with the guns' extractor; a rough chamber surface; chamber dimensional issues and/or poor quality hulls to name a few.

One of the biggest issues with metal head hulls is when they are reloaded and the head is not properly resized. Most sizing issues are caused by the metal not being fully resized leaving a larger diameter ring just above the rim, in other instances the metal is pushed down towards the rim rather than being squeezed inward and it also creates a bulge near the rim but in either instance, it will cause chambering/extraction problems.

In most cases, you'll find that higher power loads will still come in a hull with a higher metal clad head but it has no real purpose other than for show - the exception to that is when mfg's use lower quality plastic and need the additional strength of the metal to make up for the lack of quality in the hull body.

Back when W-W was producing top quality shotgun ammo, there was a time when their heavy field hi-brass hulls were exactly the same as the AA trap hulls with two exceptions: 1- the length of the brass; 2- the field load hulls used a 6 point crimp as opposed to the 8 point on the AA hulls. If you split the hulls, there were no other differences and the heavier field loads could be put into the AA hulls with the stubby little metal head without any change in function of the guns - several reloading manuals even suggested using the AA hulls for the heavy field loads as a way to help eliminate functioning issues created by the hi-brass hull head resizing. Over the years, W-W / Super-X hulls (most other brands too) have undergone numerous changes so do NOT assume that any of their hulls can be interchanged - use only loading data for the specific components identified within the data!!

Just a side note, if you plan on loading black powder rounds, you must use either an all metal hull or Federal paper hulls - never load black powder in any plastic hulls! The plastic cannot take the amount of heat generated by black powder and they will fail causing both safety and functionability issues.

March 26, 2008, 10:58 AM
Random Question: Are shotgun shells nowadays waterproof? I know other cartridges can stand some water, but can [plastic] shotgun shells?

Some are made specifically to be water-RESISTANT, but it's a stretch to say any of them are water-PROOF. Shells made with water-fowlers in mind (that the manufacturers know are going to be used under wet conditions, and may even get dunked for a short time) are usually pretty good for this, but they're not the sort of thing that you want to get wet and then store for a while; with steel shot in particular (now required for waterfowling), getting a shell wet means that unless you fire it fairly quickly, you're going to end up with a "slug" of steel pellets rusted together.

March 26, 2008, 05:16 PM
older shotguns usually only take high brass


March 26, 2008, 09:16 PM
older shotguns usually only take high brass

Do what?????:eek::eek::eek::eek:

On what grounds do you base that statement?

There are plenty of "older shotguns" out there still in excellent condition with damascuss barrels and or weak steel barrels as they were designed and built for use with standard power black powder loads only. Smokeless loads of any kind should NEVER be used in gun designed for black powder and older guns in general should only be used with light low-brass loads as they were not built to shoot heavy high power hi-brass loads.

March 27, 2008, 09:03 AM
Thanks for sharing your expertise, Flinter.

March 28, 2008, 08:00 AM
Sorry, I came off sounding a little pi$$y with my last reply but the wrong information can be extremely dangerous potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

Gun companies have been constantly pushing these mega-super-MAGNUM loads for years and 99.99% of them offer less "real" performance than a good reasonable loading that is tailored to the gun. What's the point of sucking up 40+ ftlbs of recoil and slinging 2 ounces of shot at $4 a trigger pull if it's doing less than what quality normal size load will do?

March 28, 2008, 12:03 PM
Totally agree--gotta have your information right, especially about firearms. Consequences are just too dire not to.

Jeff Mulliken
March 28, 2008, 01:05 PM
Agree with Flinter as well, YukonKids statement cant possibly be more incorrect, or more dangerous.

First: low brass has nothing to do with low chamber pressures. Do not assume that any low brass load will be lower pressure.

Second: do not assume that any early shotgun is going to be safe with modern ammunition which is made to comply with SAMMI guidelines. Reference: http://www.saami.org/

Third: Dont trust answers posted on the net by complete strangers (including me) where they relate to issues of safety. Read them, enjoy them, argue with them......then validate them from known and trusted sources.


March 28, 2008, 01:40 PM
High brass or low brass shell cycle equally well in side-by-sides and stack barrel shotugns.

i had one of those cheap chinese sxs with rabbit ears and low brass extracted
awfully somtimes i would have to forcefully break open the the action to get the shell to come out. with high brass i had no problem smoth extraction

as i said before though cheap shotgun

Jeff Mulliken
March 28, 2008, 03:11 PM

Look at the primers on fired hulls for drag marks from the firing pins. Cheap shells and cheap guns together can cause this because soft primer pockets and firing pins that dont rebound correctly make for a hard to open gun. This can eventually lead to a broked firing pin. Try a good grade of target shells like Remington RST's and the problem may dissapear.

By the way....Roy Reali must be a comic in his spare time. Pumps and auto loaders cycle. Side by sides and over under shotguns dont cycle, they are not mechanically loaded.


March 28, 2008, 03:37 PM
Both my pre-64 belgian made A-5's and my Grandfathers A-5 and model 42 only cycle with high brass. That what I base that on. I don't see how it is more dangerous, its just more brass. Both my 870 and my citori shoot both fine, but the A-5's only take the high brass. Never had any issues.



March 28, 2008, 06:19 PM
I don't see how it is more dangerous, its just more brass.

This is a splendid example of how young or inexperienced shooters can get someone injured or killed by dispensing factually incorrect information over the intarw3bz.

If you think that the only difference between high and low brass shells is "more brass", then you have no business offering opinions in the shotgun forum.

.45 COLT
March 28, 2008, 10:58 PM
Brass height is no indication of pressure. High Brass shells are not necessarily High Pressure loads, nor are Low Brass shells always Low Pressure. In fact, they rarely are a true low pressure load. If somebody is going to shoot a truly old shotgun, there are low-pressure loads (around 5,000 PSI I believe) made for that purpose. Or load your own low-pressure loads. Looks to me like Yukon Kid wasn't talking about old Damascus guns, just, what to him, were old guns.


March 29, 2008, 01:40 AM

sorry tamara...i though that was correct. if 50 year old shotguns can take modern loads like champs then what is the problem. high brass does not mean higher pressure.

sorry for being "wrong" everyone, if your worried about it and high pressures then don't buy high brass. Me and my old and new shotguns shoot it just fine. As far as young goes, that is correct...I am indeed young, but inexperienced, not so much. Since you have an issue with what I have stated, thats cool, but your not right all the time because you are a mod. If my old guns work fin with high brass loads, then i am guessing most will.


March 29, 2008, 07:53 AM
Since you have an issue with what I have stated, thats cool, but your not right all the time because you are a mod. If my old guns work fin with high brass loads, then i am guessing most will.
You are completely missing the point, here. This is not about "opinions". This is like posting in the revolver forum and saying "Well, my opinion is that there's no difference between .38 Special and .38 Special +P."

Me and my old and new shotguns shoot it just fine.
As it happens, recoil-operated guns based on the Auto-5 design are usually just fine with high-brass shells. (You want to make sure the friction rings are installed in the right way (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_adjust_recoil_rings_on_an_A-5_Browning) so the ol' gun doesn't beat itself to death, but you knew that, right?)

On the other hand, someone taking your advice and firing an old Marlin hammergun could be killed when the bolt exits the receiver and enters their skull.

But that would be okay, because you thought there was no difference between high and low brass ammunition other than the brass.

Tell me, what do you think the extra brass is for? Decoration? They just thought the shell looked prettier with more brass? :confused:

March 29, 2008, 08:02 AM
God watches over fools and children but sometimes God gets busy...

50 years old is not "old" when talking about guns. There are however plenty of guns built right on through to modern day that are unsafe with any load which gives us two catagories concerning modern guns:
1- Those that were unsafe from the day they were built.
2- Those that have become unsafe at some point after they were built.

Catagory 1 is fairly obvious, these are guns that lack quality control resulting in the use of junk materials and/or junk tooling/machines and/or the wrong tooling/machining processes.

Catagory 2 is less obvious as you can have what appears to be a quality built gun that looks nice on the outside yet at some point someone did something that caused it to be unsafe. This can include any number of things such as: shooting excessive pressure ammunition; using the wrong ammunition; improper operation; making modifications. Some European shotguns are still built with short 2.5" chambers as they are for use only with 2.5" hulls. If someone fired 2.75" ammunition in it, chances are the chamber/bbl is bulged and/or the excessive pressure has caused stress damage to the receiver/bolt/action assembly. Likewise this can happen just as well if someone fires 3” ammunition in a 2.75” chamber. The damage may not be obvious and the symptoms of the impending catastrophic failure are often ignored if you don’t understand what’s happening or know what to look for.

Likewise, guns are built within given operation characteristics such as maximum allowable load pressures. Just because a gun is “new” does not necessarily mean it is safe to use with all ammunition and it does not mean you can modify the gun. Some places will offer chamber polishing while others claim to offer polishing yet they are really honing, this can and often does result in chambers being made oversize as well as reducing the safety of the gun since an oversize chamber puts excessive stress on the entire assembly. Many places offer chamber reaming, the opening of a 2.5” chamber to 2.75” or a 2.75” to 3” or a 3” to 3.5” – all fine and dandy from the machine shop end but when metal is removed from the working surfaces, strength is also removed. In addition to intentionally reducing strength, the use of high pressure ammunition in a gun that was not designed for it will cause a multitude of other safety issues as well.

As I stated in an earlier post, if you have operational problems, they need to be checked out by someone who knows what they are doing and what they are looking at. There are many different causes and combinations of causes that can result in seemingly minor operational issues yet they may in fact be warning you of the impending catastrophic failure.

.45 Colt is correct, the average operating pressure of traditional black powder loads was around 5,000 – 6,000psi with heavy loads producing around 7,800psi maximum. The average operating pressure of light to standard smokeless powder loads is 10,000 to 11,000psi and heavy loads can easily develop well above 12,000psi in a properly constructed and operating gun. If you have a gun that is damaged/weakened for whatever reason, the operating pressures of the loads can increase considerably. Likewise, any gun that has been damaged by operator abuse such as flipping the barrel(s) of a break action or the cylinder of a revolver closed can also become extremely dangerous because of the mechanical damage created from the abuse.

.45 Colt is also correct in his statement that the length of the brass does not indicate the power/pressure of the load. I stated that earlier where Active hulls having no brass at all and hulls like the Federal, Remington, AA and others with the stubby little brass section can often be safely loaded with heavy high pressure loads. Point is, if you're firing factory loaded ammo that has a longer section of brass on it, more often than not it is a heavier loads BUT and I stress the BUT, there is no rule or application stating that just because the brass section is shorter or not there at all that it means the operational pressure of the load is any less than another!

Guns that were built for use only with black powder should never, ever be used with any smokeless powder load!!!!! Forget the “light load” crap because that’s all it is CRAP! Smokeless and black powder have completely different pressure response times and there is NO smokeless powder that responds in the same manner as black powder. If you have a gun that was built for use only with black powder loads and it is known to be safe to use, load it only with black powder loads. If you don’t want to shoot black powder loads, hang it on the wall or sell it to someone who will.

I cannot stress enough that it does not matter if you gun is 5 days, 5 years, 50 years or 100 years old…if it is not known to be safe – DO NOT SHOOT IT!!!

If you have chambering or extraction problems of any kind - DO NOT SHOOT IT!!!

If you notice smoke tracking down the side of the empty hulls - DO NOT SHOOT IT!!!

If the action does not close/open properly each and every time – DO NOT SHOOT IT!!!

There could be any number of causes for the “DO NOT SHOOT IT” answer and it’s up to you to get it to someone who can properly inspect it completely from end to end and top to bottom inside and out. If you take it someone who just gives it the quick once-over and doesn’t check the chambers and bore with the proper measuring equipment and/or gauges, take it somewhere else. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to be shooting an unsafe gun or using incorrect ammunition.

.45 COLT
March 29, 2008, 08:24 AM
After reading Flinter's post, I gotta clarify something I said. I did NOT mean that federal's low pressure loads were meant for, or safe in, guns made for Black Powder. That "Damascus" that kind of snuck into my post may have seemed to mean that. It didn't.


March 29, 2008, 01:17 PM
my apologies to everyone, especially anyone who has been harmed by my incorrect statements.

I realize how wrong I was and will refrain from making any more comments.

As to anyone who thinks that an A-5 from the fifties isn't old must be getting old themselves and trying to deny it :)

once again, i'm sorry everyone.


March 29, 2008, 01:31 PM
Hey, no harm and no foul, okay?

I guess "old" is a relative term when it comes to guns. ;)

Since they've been making the A-5 since 1903, it's only the pre-war ones that strike me as "old". Pre-World War One, that is. :D (Compared to the 1909-vintage pre-Model 11 a friend just bought, my '43 Model 11 riot gun (http://cosmolineandrust.blogspot.com/2006/10/remington-model-11-very-belligerent_29.html) is a spring chicken.)

March 29, 2008, 01:54 PM
Tell me, what do you think the extra brass is for? Decoration? They just thought the shell looked prettier with more brass?

Tamara, that cracked me up.:D:D:D

March 29, 2008, 10:49 PM
Old??????? Ya, I somewhat resemble that remark but "wore out" is more like it.... rode hard and put away wet a dozen too many times! :(

Old is the flintlock I had that was built somewhere around 1800 give or take a couple years. (and before some smarta$$ asks... no, I did not purchase it new!) I have some of those new fangled things too like a 1937 Mosin-Nagant 91/30 that looks and shoots like it just came out of the Izhevsky factory yesterday. 1890 something Mauser in 8x57 (0.318" bore) that's got a bullet wound in the stock but is fully functional and ready to go. 1930 something Wincheser model 12 20ga that's got some use on it but I used to be able to tear up a hunter's clays course with it running all brass hulls and burning black powder. 1950's...old....HA! :D